Daily Report, October 14, 2014
As beleaguered U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama made another court visit in Atlanta on Tuesday, an Alabama news outlet was seeking to unseal court documents about his past.
Fuller was arrested Aug. 10 on allegations he assaulted his wife at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta. Last month, he agreed to spend up to 24 weeks in a domestic violence intervention program and undergo an alcohol and substance abuse assessment to resolve the resulting misdemeanor battery case against him. His Atlanta criminal defense lawyer, Jeffrey Brickman, has said that Fuller made no admission of guilt and that if Fuller completes the program, the case against him will be dismissed and his arrest record expunged.
According to Brickman, Tuesday's court appointment was for Fuller to provide the county solicitor's office with proof that he's complying with the requirements placed on him by the pretrial diversion program.
Leaving the courthouse after his appointment around 9 a.m., Fuller declined to comment. He carried a copy of "Quiet Strength," former NFL coach Tony Dungy's faith-oriented memoir.
Meanwhile, an editorial posted Monday by AL.com, the online arm of the Alabama Media Group, which includes the Birmingham News, said the news organization had asked a Montgomery family court judge to unseal the file of Fuller's 2012 divorce proceedings. The editorial acknowledged that divorce cases are "intensely personal" but said Fuller's case presented "unusual circumstances."
Fuller's divorce file is of interest because of what is known from documents that were salvaged for public view before the matter was put under seal. An article posted on the website for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press linked to documents filed in the divorce proceedings. They included a discovery request made by Fuller's then-wife asking him to admit, among other things, that he'd physically abused her and was addicted to prescription medication. Fuller moved to seal the case within two hours of that request being filed, citing security concerns for the parties and their children. A state court judge granted the motion a few weeks later, over the objection of Fuller's then-wife. An attempt by third parties to have the matter unsealed was rejected by the court later in 2012.
The editorial board of AL.com in August said Fuller should resign. This week's editorial said, "If Fuller does not resign, the only way to remove him from the federal bench would be impeachment and trial by Congress. That is a serious question and one for which Congress and the public should have all information and answers to many open questions." Specifically, the editorial wonders whether Fuller has a history of substance abuse and whether the August incident was "the first time Fuller hit a spouse."
The editorial noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is investigating Fuller in the wake of his arrest. "But that inquiry, today, lacks important information, because those facts are hidden inside a sealed court file in Montgomery County."
Birmingham attorney Barry Ragsdale said Tuesday that he hadn't seen the media group's request. "We have offered to the Eleventh Circuit our copy of the entire file," added Ragsdale.
He said the lawyer investigating the matter for the circuit was expected to be in touch with the lawyer who represented Fuller in the divorce, John Henig Jr. of Montgomery, so that he could interview the lawyer and review the file, although Ragsdale said he didn't think that had happened yet.
Ragsdale said he didn't know what position Fuller would take on whether the divorce record should be unsealed for the general public's review. "I know we've taken the position that the Eleventh Circuit is the proper place for that information to be analyzed and reviewed," he said. He said Fuller's former wife had ultimately joined Fuller in objecting to the unsealing of the divorce record in 2012 and will have a chance to weigh in on whether the file should be unsealed now.
Ragsdale said nothing in the divorce file amounted to even an allegation of domestic violence or drug abuse. He said people who think the divorce file will show Fuller is not a first offender "are going to be very disappointed."
An attempt to reach J. Floyd Minor, a Montgomery lawyer who handled the divorce for Fuller's former wife, was unsuccessful.